Some people know his name only from the movie, The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell, starring Gary Cooper (an EXTREMELY hot dead guy). But Billy Mitchell is arguably the father of modern air power. As a member of the newly formed U.S. Air Service during World War I, he saw the stalemates caused by trench warfare and believed that air power could break those stalemates. He advocated the use of bombers to weaken enemy forces by destroying their positions and supply lines.
His superiors didn’t quite share his enthusiasm for strategic air power. He criticized the top military brass for being short-sighted, which didn’t exactly endear him to people. Then, after two Navy accidents involving naval aircraft, he took his rants public. Newspaper reporters quoted him as saying, “Those accidents are the result of the incompetency, the criminal negligence, and the almost treasonable administration of our national defense by the Navy and War Departments.” He was served with court-martial papers and was ultimately found guilty of insubordination.
Mitchell resigned in 1926 and died ten years later. But his ideas about the superiority of air power—and the limits of sea power—would prove to be eerily prophetic fifteen years later with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The man wasn’t just handsome, he was also ahead of his time.